News

‘Continuing’ Episcopalians Come Home At Last to The Falls Church

episcopaleaster1The historic chapel on the campus of The Falls Church was filled to overflowing last Easter Sunday, marking the homecoming of persevering Episcopalian worshipers who had been banished from the site for over five years.

episcopaleaster2JAMMING THE HISTORIC CHAPEL on the campus of The Falls Church Sunday, “continuing” Episcopalians came home to their property. (Photo: News-Press)

The historic chapel on the campus of The Falls Church was filled to overflowing last Easter Sunday, marking the homecoming of persevering Episcopalian worshipers who had been banished from the site for over five years.

It was a moving and joyous occasion for many who attended, having endured the years of an occupation of the historic site by a breakaway congregation that left the Episcopal Diocese in 2006 to protest, among other things, the Episcopal Church’s election of an openly gay bishop. In January, a Fairfax Circuit judge ordered the property, and that of other Episcopal churches in Virginia where the same thing happened, back to the Episcopal diocese.

episcopaleaster1THE BAPTISM OF Charlotte Grace DeNitto occurred during Easter services at the historic Falls Church chapel Sunday that marked the return to the property by Falls Church’s “continuing” Episcopalians. (Photo: News-Press) Sunday marked the first return of the “continuing Episcopalians,” who had persisted in their faith by worshiping in the fellowship hall of a church across the street. On a beautiful Easter morning, the chapel dating to 1732 was filled to capacity, with folding chairs added to any and all available open spaces, for a rousing celebration of Easter and the return to the sanctuary.

“You may notice some leading this service having breaks in their voices,” the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts, who led the service, told the congregation. “That’s because of the momentous occasion today represents. It is a wonderful day.”

Preaching on a Resurrection theme, Tibbetts told the congregation, “We have come home to do God’s work.”

A congregational prayer intoned, “We pray for the well being of your church, most especially for all affected by the recent litigation now coming to its conclusion…We pray for all affected in our own community of Falls Church, for the people of The Falls Church Episcopal and the people of The Falls Church Anglican (the breakaway group –ed.), that in you we may all come to know your perfect will for our missions and ministries… We pray for all in positions of leadership, for the clergy, vestries, and attorneys that all may be used by you, as instruments of your wisdom, grace and love during this time of transition.”

The service included a baptism and Eucharist, and was followed by an Easter egg hunt on the grounds for the large contingent of young people present for the service. Falls Church leaders present included City Council member Robin Gardner, School Board member Kieran Sharpe, Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Warren Pace and founding Falls Church School Board member Jessie Thackrey.

Henry Burt, the chief of staff of the Diocese headquarters in Richmond who belonged to The Falls Church prior to the schism, including serving as an altar boy, was on hand with his entire family Sunday, and told the News-Press, “It is hard to describe how happy we were.”

The breakaway group also celebrated Easter on The Falls Church campus Sunday with a sunrise service and early-morning worship in the new sanctuary space. The court has provided their final vacation of the property to be at the end of the month, while among the properties associated with the church, the parsonage residence for the lead rector located on Broadmont Terrace, has already been vacated.

In the meantime, the Episcopal congregation will return to the Fellowship Hall at the Falls Church Presbyterian, across the street, for its worship activities.

While terms may be worked out for the breakaway group’s temporary rental of worship space at The Falls Church, such an arrangement would be temporary at best.
“It is kind of exciting thinking about being a church without walls,” a member of the breakaway group told the News-Press last week.